Lyotard is a postmodern philosopher and here I would like to sketch some of his prominent thoughts. He begins by defining modernist literature as those associated with Virginia Wolf, T S Eliot and James Joyce and Art with Cubism, Impressionism and Surrealism.
He explicates postmodernism as a fusion between elitism and populism embodying extreme irony parody, pastiche-the use of magic realism.
He then goes on to analyze modernity as the beginning of renaissance, capitalism and Protestantism, the American and the French revolution. Modernity is characterized by innovation, wealth creation, technology and justice.
In ‘the postmodern condition’ he traces the condition of knowledge in developed societies. How is knowledge organized and employed in societies? Knowledge has become a commodity brought and sold on the market and also is the basis of power.
States are beginning to lose their grip over the world. The world is taken over by Oil corporations, computer industries and pharmaceuticals. They use patent laws to claim ownership of knowledge.
There are two types of knowledge systems: scientific knowledge and narrative knowledge. Narrative knowledge stems from different fields like art, literature, sociology and psychology. All these forms of discourses are language games. The rules of a game are not natural but determined by a community. Every utterance should be thought of as move in a game. Modification of rules alters the nature of the game. Different societies have diverse forms of law, politics and legislation. The organization of games and narratives is performed by meta-narratives.
There are two types of meta-narratives-the speculative grand narrative and the grand narrative of emancipation. The speculative grand narrative begins with Hegel and he calls it the spirit which is mans progress of knowledge. All the language games are brought together to present a universal history of the spirit. The grand narrative of emancipation presents knowledge as the basis for human freedom and liberty. The grand narrative of emancipation began with the French revolution. The universalization of education means freeing all citizens from domination and mysticism.
The enlightenment era focuses on the freedom of people from religious superstitions and Marxist narratives focuses on the freedom of workers.
In postmodern culture grand-narratives or meta-narratives have lost their credibility. Postmodern knowledge is marked by efficiency and profitability. The aim is to make production and consumption cheaper.
Individuals are sites where ranges of conflicting moral and social codes intersect and the social bond in fragmented.
The best means to resist globalization of capitalism is increasing fragmentation of games. For example in Quantum physics, the laws of physics cease to operate at the subatomic level and games become the language of probability.
Experimental work of art and literature should challenge the art and tradition of the avant garde art and literature. Art has the capacity to generate political action and also resist the dehumanizing impact of free market capitalism. The aim of communication is for reaching consensus between various participants.
Postmodernism is the art of destabilization and achieving the status of the sublime.
Lyotard has introduced the concept of the differand. It could be explained with the help of an example. A company wanted to build its factory in Australian aboriginal land. The aboriginals cannot give up the land because the land is sacred. But the aboriginals cannot prove in court the sacredness of the land. Lyotard does not explicitly say what decision the court should take. He defines such complex legal situation as one of being a Differand. The complexity of rendering justice is a dilemma as both sides stands to lose if the judgment favors one.